Leading Lady

One of the things I love about dancing, although it took me a long time to get used to it, is following. I like that there is one part of my life in which I am not in charge and I don’t have to make decisions. I like the old fashioned idea of men asking women to dance, although I’m not averse to doing the asking. I like the idea of being swept off my feet by a handsome man… (hey, a girl can dream!).

On the social dance floor the majority of people will be dancing in male-female couples with the man leading. But you do see female-female couples and (less often) male-male couples. I have a few good friends who really enjoy switching roles, and I know a number of women who lead very well and men who follow very well (some with way better female styling than me!).

So far in my dancing life (which is still less than three years), I’ve not been keen on leading. I have a lot to learn as a follower, and I haven’t felt the need to lead. Until recently. I took a kizomba class not long ago where, for a warm-up exercise, we switched roles. At first I wasn’t keen, but I actually found I enjoyed the experience. And this led me to think that maybe I should give leading a go…

So I’ve started taking beginner’s salsa classes ‘as a boy’, and it’s challenging! Switching everything around to the other side, thinking ahead and working out a move, leading the girl to go where you want her to – it’s hard! But it’s also fascinating. I’ve learnt a lot about myself as a follower so far, which I hadn’t expected. I can see how annoying it is for the lead if the follower leads themselves, or moves around too much – it can be like trying to catch a flapping bird.

So ladies, followers, remember what all your good teachers have probably said to you a thousand times: don’t lead yourself, and if he doesn’t lead you, don’t go! The leads will never learn how to lead you properly if you do.

Acceptance on the social dance floor is a lovely thing. It’s great to be in an environment where everyone can dance with anyone, and when people stop and stare it’s just because you’re doing something awesome.

Kizomba with Charlotte

Sisters doing it for themselves

Connection

I’ve been thinking a lot about connection, both on and off the dance floor. In life, aren’t we all just searching for a connection? Searching for someone who is on the same page as us, someone who gets us?

And yet sometimes it feels like we’re not even reading the same book, let alone on the same page.

On the dance floor it should be easy to make connections. We are all dancing to the same tune, after all (in theory!). But a true connection is a rare thing.

Kizomba (one of the many different dances I now do) has taught me a lot about connection, which I try to bring into all of my dance. In kizomba the follower (usually the girl in a male/female pair) often closes her eyes to better feel the lead and in turn make a deeper connection. It sometimes amazes me that my body knows what to do and where to go with just the subtlest of touches, and that I can understand a lead often from someone I’ve never even met before without any verbal communication.

In all dance my aim is to connect both with the music and with my partner. Whether it’s a fun, fast salsa with a cheeky lead or a slow, sensual bachata or kizomba full of emotion, what’s the point in dancing if you don’t connect? In my mind, you might as well be dancing alone if you are not connected when you are dancing with your partner.

Leads need to be aware of the space around them when dancing, but if the lead spends more time looking around than he does looking at his follower the connection will be lost. I’ve had whole dances where the guy has barely looked at me, perhaps through nerves or inexperience, and it doesn’t make for a great dance. I’m not asking for constant eye contact – that would be creepy – but a good mixture of eye contact and generally looking at each other in order to connect is important for me in most dances.

In fact, this is something I would say is important in most day-to-day interactions. I don’t expect deep eye contact (or deep connections) with most people I interact with daily, but if the person serving you in the shop seems disinterested and barely looks at you, or if your colleague does’t have time to smile in your direction, that makes for a pretty lonely day.

Of course, in kizomba you don’t have the eye contact to make a connection with, so you have to connect in other ways (chest connection is the main thing, but it’s more than just being physically close to someone). In a good kizomba dance I feel like I’m dancing in a bubble, just me and the guy, connected as one moving object drifting around the dance floor. That’s what I’m looking for in all dances.

But this dance floor connection doesn’t have to be any more than that. I have found that it can be possible to have an amazing connection with someone when the time and the music is just right, and never even get to know their name or see them again. It’s sometimes simply about sharing a moment.

So what about off the dance floor? Connections made whilst dancing can be difficult to interpret, and sadly might not exist once the music stops. That’s where things get difficult. You can find yourself thinking, “but we had such a great connection…” and wondering why what you had whilst dancing simply doesn’t exist elsewhere.

I’ve made some of my very best friends on the dance floor, and met some of my favourite people in the world, but I’ve also had a lot of single moments of connection with people I may never see again. Connection can be brief and fleeting, but that doesn’t mean it has any less value than those connections which last a lifetime.

So are we all just looking for a connection? Yes, I believe we are. Whether on the dance floor or off it, finding connections with people, whether in friendship, romance or something else, seems to be a vital part of this thing we call life.

A reason to leave the office…

I’m lucky enough to be able to say I love what I do for a living (selling holidays to Japan) but a couple of years ago I realised there simply had to be more to life than your day job. I used to spend hours at work, in front of a computer, getting less and less productive as the night went on, and I realised I was in danger of losing my passion for my career.

I was saved by salsa. After trying a class one evening I found myself hooked, and soon started finding every chance I could to dance in order to have a reason to leave my desk at the end of the day. Getting out, meeting people, learning something new and moving my body gave me a new reason to be alive, and before long I was happier and healthier than I had ever been.

Learning salsa led me to also learn other Latin and African dances, and now I dance salsa, bachata, cha cha cha, kizomba, semba, merengue and I’ll have a go at anything else you throw at me.

I’m back at work this week after a lovely Christmas holiday and started the week with no dancing in my diary. Classes all seem to be starting again next week, so I resigned myself to probably having a week of working hard and late, and not having the usual release that dance gives me. Without a reason to leave the office, would I just end up working late? Probably.

And then I was saved. Some of my wonderful dance teachers decided to put on an impromptu kizomba social dance tonight, lots of my friends were going, and before I knew it I had a reason to leave my desk at six on the dot, and something to look forward to all night.

Tomorrow I’m booked in for a Zumba class so I can shake my funky stuff a little more, and I’ve found some salsa for Friday now too. 

Dance not only gives me a reason to leave the office, it makes me feel great, and it’s one of my reasons to live now.